Lately I’ve been missing home quite often. Usually it has something to do with being verbally assaulted by bodaboda drivers or a thousand shouts of “Muzungu!!!” as I make my way through town. Or, like today, when I go out shopping for a new dress or top or skirt and find that nothing fits right. Ugandans are tiny, tiny people. And well, I’m not. It’s hard enough to find something in a size 8 or 10 and when you do it’s a ghastly shade of polyester lavender or strangely reminiscent of a bumblebee. I’m quickly finding out that Ugandan women have a thing for looking like bumblebees. Um…no thank you.
Lately, however, I suspect it has more to do with the asparagus season. As a child I didn’t particularly like asparagus. It has a bit of a bitter taste and just lying there on the plate resembles something closer to a twig than a tasty, delicious treat. I’d practically drown the poor spears in melted butter before I’d even consider placing one anywhere near my mouth. After I moved out and into my own place during college, I gradually realized what a dimwit I’d been concerning asparagus. I found I love it. Roasted, creamed in soup, mixed with risotto, in tarts and quiches. Asparagus, how I love thee. Uganda, however, does not have asparagus. And the food blogs I read have been taunting me lately, posting delicious looking recipe after recipe of asparagus treats. So I’ve been a little homesick.
Seeing as I’m not going home anytime soon and I’m certainly not going to find asparagus in Uganda anytime soon, I decided a little “home cooking” was in order. My mother typically makes these stuffed peppers with a homemade tomato “sauce” and ground turkey, but seeing as the traditional filling is a little sparse in my neck of the woods, I substituted with chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs and balsamic vinegar.
A note on baking: Since I don’t have access to an oven, I’m not entire sure at what temperature you should bake these. I’m therefore going to leave that up to you and wish you luck in your endeavor. Until you figure out the proper temperature (or until my mom or sister tells me!), you might want to keep a close eye on the oven! I “baked” mine in a dutch oven – a smaller pan placed on a stone inside a larger pan and covered with a lid. This makes a type of oven, letting the hot air circulate and “bake” the goods inside. Peace Corps Volunteers have been baking with dutch ovens for decades!
UPDATE: just received a text from my mama who informed me of the proper baking procedure.
(makes 6 stuffed peppers)
2 garlic cloves
2 small onions (shallots)
3 medium to small tomatoes
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 cup water
1 tablespoon dried parsley (I used dried since that’s all I have, if you prefer fresh, then go for it!)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 medium green peppers
A good splash of balsamic vinegar
Begin by chopping the garlic and onions into small pieces. Also chop the tomatoes into 1/2 inch, or so, chunks. Place these into a sauce pan with 1 tablespoon butter and saute on medium heat until onions begin to turn translucent, not letting the garlic, onions or tomatoes burn. Add the rice and water, stir, raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. After the rice mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and let the rice simmer until nearly fully cooked. The rice shouldn’t be crunchy but also shouldn’t be fully cooked either.
While the rice is cooking, cut each pepper in half long-ways and remove the insides. I like to prepare the pan I’m going to bake veggies in by covering it with a sheet of aluminum foil – makes clean-up so much easier! Place the green peppers on the pan and pour a splash of balsamic vinegar into each pepper.
Spoon the rice mixture into each pepper half and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until the peppers have begun to soften and the skins wrinkle. You don’t want to burn or brown these! A nice topping might be shredded Parmesan cheese/breadcrumb mixture (you can allow the cheese to brown), which I would have added if I had either of those things.